At this pet boutique in a dog-friendly town, it’s all about love, community and having a good time.
By Lizett Bond
Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is a destination for horse racing enthusiasts. Home to the oldest racetrack in the United States, it’s horse country. It’s also the home of Sloppy Kisses, A Treat Boutique for Dogs. Courtesy of hard work, bubbling enthusiasm and lots of love, Sloppy Kisses owner, Melanie Dallas, has helped create a new designation for the Victorian community, that of “dog friendly town.”
|What began as a small kiosk in the Clifton Park Center is now Dallas’ second store in Upstate New York.|
Opened February 3, 2006, Sloppy Kisses began as a labor of love thanks to Marley, Dallas’ 13-year-old chocolate Labrador.
“Marley has been a constant source of love,” Dallas said. “We called her our baby, I cooked for her and I dabbled in making biscuits and shared them with friends.”
After college graduation, Dallas entered the corporate retail world as a manager for Victoria’s Secret. She said the skills acquired in that vocation served to enhance the success of Sloppy Kisses. An additional venture, Hot Stuff of Saratoga, a gourmet chili pepper store, broadened her expertise and introduced her to the world of mom-and-pop retail.
“Working in a corporate environment really helped me later in life,” Dallas said. “I mean, I’m not selling bras and panties anymore, now it’s collars and leashes, but in corporate retail everything is consistent.”
In 2002, she and husband Eugene began to explore the idea of opening a gourmet treat and specialty boutique for dogs in Saratoga Springs. When Dallas became pregnant with a second child, the plans were put on hold to focus on family. By 2005, the couple was ready to re-visit their dream.
Three years later, the success of the original store prompted the couple to investigate areas that might support a second endeavor. In March 2009, their Clifton Park location was launched. At that time, Eugene left his full-time career as a nuclear engineer to manage the new enterprise.
|Owner Melanie Dallas shows off birthday “pawty” cakes. Behind her in the corner is the “Doggie Wall of Fame.” |
While the layout of 1,200-square-foot Clifton Park Center store, located in a brand new building, is more modern and has a more open layout than the original boutique, Dallas strives for consistency between the two locations. To keep things fresh, floor sets and table displays change every few weeks.
“As customers browse from room to room or section to section, I make sure the displays are focused and the same at both stores,” she said.
With two distinct rooms, the 800-square-foot Saratoga Springs boutique occupies the first floor of an old Victorian home in the downtown area. Upon entering the store, a large glass bakery case, chock-full of canine delicacies, is the focal point. In addition, hundreds of photos of customers’ dogs serve as wallpaper.
Dallas still bakes some of her own treats but also stocks goodies from other vendors to fill the 15 bakery trays. Party cakes are also in the mix.
“We specialize in them,” she said. “Birthdays are huge and people will come in to buy cakes for their dogs. They can be customized with a name and favorite colors of icing. They’re fancy.”
AT A GLANCE
Location: 493 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and 22 Clifton Country Rd, Clifton Park, N.Y.
Owner: Melanie Dallas
Size: Saratoga Springs, 800 sq. ft.; Clifton Park, 1,200 sq. ft.
Employees: Two part-time
Years in Business: Saratoga Springs, 4; Clifton Park, 1
Products and Services Offered: Bakery treats, bulk treats, collars and leashes, beds, carriers, canine specialty apparel, toys, gift packs, yappy hours.
Treats take on special shapes for specific holidays, and offerings include organic, wheat-free, soy-free, corn-free and grain-free. All ingredients are human-grade.
“Customers sometimes come in and think our treats are sugary and sweet, but they’re not,” Dallas said.
With offerings such as Doggie Cannoli, peanut butter bars, Big Boy doughnuts, Puppy Pizza and Muttini with Olive, Sloppy Kisses presents something for every taste.
Moving into the next room, shoppers’ senses encounter an array of accessories—toys, beds, carriers, strollers, etc.—and apparel, including collars, tees, dresses, sport-themed wear and birthday “tanks” and bandannas, each sporting the slogan, “I’m the birthday boy/girl” in pink or blue colors.
Dressed up canines can flaunt their new clothes by attending the monthly yappy hours hosted by Sloppy Kisses and held at local establishments throughout the summer season. Featuring a different restaurant or bar for each event, human participants enjoy cocktails and food, with plenty of “doggie fun.” Treats for dogs include martini-shaped biscuits. Local establishments are happy to join in the fun and offer a venue.
“We have been doing yappy hour on Thursday nights, a slower night for restaurants, and have had such great success people are happy to partner up with us,” Dallas said.
“Partnering up” is something Dallas finds beneficial not only to her own boutique but to the entire community.
“I’m a big believer in that full circle of ‘if you get something, you’d better give back in return’ because that’s how it works,” she said.
|The well-laid out Bakery Room at the Saratoga store offers delectable and fun treats galore.|
Giving back finds Dallas actively involved in a plethora of community organizations and committees. A boutique-sponsored Saratoga Miss softball team sports Sloppy Kisses T-shirts and caps.
“It’s good for marketing but more importantly, it’s good for the community,” Dallas said. “It’s two-fold. It makes you feel good and it’s good for business.”
In keeping with that philosophy, Dallas is also involved in fundraising for local shelters and rescues, but instead of traditional adoption days, she chooses to put on events that raise funds for these entities. A “Doggy Easter Bonnet” contest celebrated the opening of the Clifton Park location. For a small fee, donated entirely to a local shelter, participants were photographed in their finest homemade millinery. Photos were posted in the Clifton Park Center mall and shoppers voted for their favorite. The event was such a success and so much fun that it will now be an annual happening.
“We had everything from the itty-bitty to Pit Bulls and it was fun and hokey and crazy; it was great!” Dallas said. “And that’s what we are known for.
“I look at it like this; there’s too many bad things happening in the world, so put a bonnet on your dog and laugh. Why not?” she added.
Patriotism can be fun, too, and for Saratoga Spring’s annual 4th of July parade, Dallas organizes a Patriotic Pooch ensemble to proudly join the procession through town. Proceeds from entries, again, benefited local rescues.
A typical day at Sloppy Kisses in Saratoga Springs includes “doggie fittings.”
Benefiting from her past retail background, Dallas already knew what advertising methods would work when she opened her boutique. Initially, she set up a mailing list and mailed postcards. Donating gift baskets for fundraising events also helped her boutique get off the ground.
“Saratoga Springs has a lot of high society fundraisers and formal events and I would donate gift baskets—humongous, beautiful baskets wrapped in paw print wrap with wonderful stuff—and word got around that way,” she said.
Today, Dallas continues donating to various community causes. Advertising for special events comes in the form of colorful postcards handed out at the register and through e-mail. The Sloppy Kisses Facebook page, with almost 3,000 fans as of late May, is a strong tool for advertising and letting customers know about upcoming happenings.
“I believe in Facebook marketing,” she said. “We post three to four times a day with fun things. I do ‘famous photo Fridays,’ where I will post a celebrity photo that includes their dog and ask ‘who is this?’ The celebrity usually has on sunglasses and a hat, so they have to guess and it’s fun!”
Celebrity sightings in Saratoga Springs may not be the norm but folks shopping with their dogs are a common occurrence. The downtown area features mostly small, independent businesses, and Dallas partnered with the Saratoga Art Center to create a “dog friendly” downtown area. Creating a decal with the Sloppy Kisses logo, the concept began with 12 merchants on board.
In May , the Saratoga Springs Dog Friendly Downtown program, with 35 stores participating, was officially introduced with a scavenger hunt and Yappy Hour. Contestants sought answers to one dog-related question that might apply to each business visited and hunters received coupons good at participating stores. Those with at least seven correct answers were entered in the raffle drawing held at Yappy Hour later in the day with prizes donated by dog-friendly businesses. Today, “dog friendly” stores proudly display a decal in their storefront windows letting shoppers know their dogs are welcome inside.
|The well-laid out and -equipped boutique room at the Saratoga Springs store.|
“I look at it as a way to say ‘Come down here. Do you love your dog? Do you want to shop?’ It’s another reason to shop downtown,” she said.
Dallas said customers love to shop at Sloppy Kisses not only because of the variety of specialized merchandise but also because of competitive pricing. While summertime brings tourists to the area, she wants to cater to residents as well.
“I want the locals to shop here, and they do and when out of towners come in they are shocked at the low prices,” she said. “That creates loyalty and they come back and spend money.”
With husband Eugene in charge of the Clifton Park Center store, Dallas operates the Saratoga Springs location. Daughters Madison, 11, and Ava, 7, also help out occasionally.
Each boutique has one part-time employee working on Sundays and their hours increase with summertime demand.
The two part-time employees came to her first as her children’s babysitters.
“I look at this business as my baby and the people that I’ve hired have had something to do with my children first,” she said.
“People who love kids, love dogs, so it works,” she added.
At Sloppy Kisses, A Treat Boutique for Dogs, in Saratoga Springs, a dog friendly town, it’s all about love, community and having a good time. <HOME>
This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Pet Product News International. Click here to become a subscriber.
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